It’s August. The Kansas City Royals are once again assured of a losing season, playing a game against the Houston Astros that means more to them than it does to the Royals. And Zack Greinke is out here straight-up dealing. The legendary Royal was extremely sharp, only allowing two runs over the course of an efficient six innings where he walked only one. Of course, Greinke ended up with the loss, as he wasn’t quite sharp enough; his bullpen also let a manageable one-run deficit balloon to a three-run deficit after the star left the game.
Royals fans have experienced similar stories time and time again, except this time we’re in bizarro world and the shoe is on the other foot—Greinke wasn’t pitching for the Royals, and it was Kansas City that came away with a 7-1 victory. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess, except they’re weirder than they used to be.
Anyway, in this lost season, these games are moreso about individual performances than the final score of the game; that’s just how it is when you’re 12 games below .500 as August comes to a close. Chief among these performances is how well the young starting pitching is doing. And tonight, Daniel Lynch—perhaps the best of the bunch—did very well against the best offensive team in baseball.
Overall, Lynch was deadly. The Astros strike out less than any team in the league, but Lynch managed five strikeouts in his five innings. The whole arsenal was working for him, as he notched strikeouts on his fastball, changeup, and slider. He was also pretty sharp, and threw probably a half dozen perfectly located borderline pitches at the bottom of the zone that plenty of umpires would have called strikes. But Lynch wasn’t perfect, and the patient Astros worked three walks and made him work.
Furthermore, two innings were particularly troublesome for Lynch, and a lesser performance (or, let’s be honest, worse luck) could have sent this game into a very different place.
In the bottom of the third, Taylor Jones poked a single and Martin Maldonado walked to lead off the inning. After a Jose Altuve strikeout and a Michael Brantley fielder’s choice, Yuli Gurriel doubled to left field to score Jones. Thankfully, the extraordinarily close left field wall and Maldonado’s, ahem, slower gait prevented more than one run from scoring. Then, Yordan Alvarez’s rocket to left conveniently found its way right to Andrew Benintendi’s glove to end the inning. It was the only run Lynch would surrender, in part thanks to some nifty defense such as Michael A. Taylor’s ninth outfield assist this season:
Lynch’s other scare happened in the fifth inning. The lanky lefty loaded the bases by walking Maldonado and Gurriel and surrenduring a double to Jose Altuve. But Lynch managed to get Alvarez to meekly ground out to the right side of the infield to escape. After three big league starts, Lynch’s ERA stood at an unsightly 15.75. But in the six games since then, Lynch has thrown a cool 2.27 ERA in 35.2 innings.
On the offensive side of things, the Royals managed to hit Greinke a little bit early. Back-to-back singles from Nicky Lopez and Salvador Perez put the pressure on, though the Royals could not score. In the second inning, opposite field doubles by both Ryan O’Hearn and Emmanuel Rivera pushed a run across. And in the third inning, Salvador Perez took the train to dongtown for the 33rd time this season, furthering a career best. Everyone’s favorite giant Venezuelan catcher could ostensibly hit 40 this year, which would be a treat.
In fact, today was quite the day for Perez. He picked up the two aforementioned hits in the first three innings and then one-upped himself by walking in the fifth and walking again in the ninth. Perez knocked in another run in the seventh inning on a fielder’s choice, though got himself thrown out at second base after trying to punish a throwing error on the part of pitcher Yimi Garcia.
The rest of the game was a game of two very different bullpens. The Royals bullpen held up. The Astros bullpen...did not. Kansas City scored another five runs after Greinke left, while the Astros did not score again. Whit Merrifield ended the game a homer short of the cycle, and Emmanuel Rivera ended the game with three hits of his own, a career first.
Suddenly red-hot, Kansas City has won seven of their last eight games and 19 of their last 32 games. They’ve done so primarily on the back of some really stellar outings from their young starters like Lynch. They are 56-68.